So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite 'em;
And so proceed ad infinitum.

- Jonathan Swift

The full origin of the word parasite is somewhat amusing. It began as the respectable Greek word parasitos, meaning quite mundanely a 'fellow-diner' or 'guest' to the house. This meaning it kept until the Old Comedy of Greece became fashionable in the 400s BCE, when plays involving rude, sniveling, or otherwise unpleasant dinner guests were popular. The word concurrently began to gain a sense of 'freeloader', someone who sponged off his host's hospitality with flattering and humor while hiding ulteriour motives. The parasitos was a sort of charming vagabond.

Images of the parasitos continued to appear through Middle Comedy and he became a stock, stereotypical character by the time of the New Comedy. Many times real-life members of government or society would be cast into the role of the parasitos; a technique which served the common goal of many Greek plays to satire. The Latins borrowed the word, like many things Greek, and transformed it into parasitus. Their plays also featured this stock character, though not to the same degree. From Latin to French, from French to English, and there you have it. Parasite!

Howatson, M. C. The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
A villain published by DC Comics. The Parasite first appeared in Action Comics #340 in 1966.

Rudy Jones was a small time crook always looking for a fast buck. After a string of less than successful jobs, Jones took a job in the maintainence areas of S.T.A.R. Labs. Having heard rumors that major corporations sometimes transported payrolls in containers marked as hazardous waste, Jones decided to find out if it was true while transporting a load of waste with high security clearance. Unbeknownst to Jones, the waste in question had extraterrestrial origins, particularly from the planet Apokolips, the home of Darkseid. When Jones opened one of the containers, the hazardous waste in the container bathed Jones in weird radioactive energy, that caused him to turn purple and become the inhuman villain known as Parasite.

In his new form, Jones found that his touch would absorb the energy of a person, feeding him with energy. If Jones stayed in contact long enough, he would drain all of the life energy from a person, killing them. When Parasite touches a person with superhuman powers, he can absorb their abilities for a time. During that time, the hero in question is unable to use his powers. Jones needs energy to continue living so he is constantly looking for a new energy source.

The Parasite originally battled Superman, but when he tried to absorb the Man of Steel's powers, he found himself overloaded and collapsed from the strain. After that, he tried to only drain a portion of Superman's power working his way up. He can absorb just particular abilities from heroes. For instance, he could just absorb Superman's heat vision if he wished. In one pre-Crisis story, he absorbed Superman's popularity, making the Last Son of Krypton a public outcast, until Superman was able to defeat the Parasite.

Lately, Superman's wife Lois Lane was replaced by the Parasite for a time. The Parasite descovered Lane was Clark Kent's wife and kidnapped her and took her place for a time. During that time he tried to undermine Superman by striking at him from his personal life. When the Parasite finally revealed himself, he and Superman battled and during the ensuing battle, the Parasite died from unknown causes.

Though not addressed by the comics specifically, the fact that the Parasite's ruse involved Clark and Lois's sex life raises some uncomfortable lines of thought. The question becomes how far Jones was willing to go to convince Superman that he was really Lois. The best we can hope for is that Kal-El was really, really, really frustrated after those months.

Par"a*site (?), n. [F., fr. L. parasitus, Gr. , lit., eating beside, or at the table of, another; beside + to feed, from wheat, grain, food.]


One who frequents the tables of the rich, or who lives at another's expense, and earns his welcome by flattery; a hanger-on; a toady; a sycophant.

Thou, with trembling fear, Or like a fawning parasite, obey'st. Milton.

Parasites were called such smell-feasts as would seek to be free guests at rich men's tables. Udall.

2. Bot. (a)

A plant obtaining nourishment immediately from other plants to which it attaches itself, and whose juices it absorbs; -- sometimes, but erroneously, called epiphyte.


A plant living on or within an animal, and supported at its expense, as many species of fungi of the genus Torrubia.

3. Zool. (a)

An animal which lives during the whole or part of its existence on or in the body of some other animal, feeding upon its food, blood, or tissues, as lice, tapeworms, etc.


An animal which steals the food of another, as the parasitic jager.


An animal which habitually uses the nest of another, as the cowbird and the European cuckoo.


© Webster 1913.

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